Politics and Critical Thinking

Why are so many Americans incapable of critical thinking? Before examining the question, perhaps we should define critical thinking. To many people, critical thinkers are people who agree with their opinions. If you find that my opinions are correct, you are a critical thinker. If you don’t, you aren’t.

That decided, we can now move on to reading left-wing or right-wing fake news sites that reinforce our opinions. However, author Robert Todd Carroll has a different definition in his essay entitled “Teaching Critical Thinking.

One of the key elements of critical thinking is the recognition that one’s worldview can be a major hindrance to being fair-minded. A minimum requirement of fair-mindedness is a willingness to take seriously viewpoints opposed to your own. In other words, you have to be willing to admit that you might be wrong.

A critical thinker will constantly reconsider her thoughts in light of the opinions of others. I would add something else. Critical thinking involves the ability to evaluate information and separate what is likely to be true from what is likely to be false.

A long-standing example of the inability of about half of Americans to think critically involves creationism. According to a Gallop Poll, 46 percent of us believe that the Earth and everything on it was created by God in six days and that creation took place less than 10,000 years ago. What is the evidence for this belief? A fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. How do we know that the Bible account of creation is correct? We don’t. All evidence supports the notion that the Bible is a mixture of fact and fiction. People who believe the biblical story of creation base their belief on faith. Period!

However, there is plenty of evidence that the creationist theory is not correct. Millions of years of archeological and geological evidence contradict the fundamentalist biblical interpretation. However, many Americans, probably about half of them, don’t want their opinions blurred by facts.

Take a modern example. The US Congress held hearing after hearing about the Benghazi attack with the killing of four Americans in an attempt to put the blame the attack on Hillary Clinton. Republicans in Congress were never able to show that she was at fault, but just by holding the hearings, the Republicans manged to subliminally associate the Benghazi attacks with Hillary Clinton. Is she in part responsible for the death of four Americans in Benghazi? A critical thinker would answer that question with the words, “I don’t know, but no evidence has been produced to show that she was.” The mere fact that so many Republicans claimed that she was responsible does not make it true. On the other hand, the fact that Republicans were unable to produce any convincing evidence to support their accusation does not, in itself, prove that their accusation is false.

The past presidential election showed just how large number of Americans are incapable of critical thinking. Many people voted against Hillary Clinton, because they had a visceral dislike for her and were therefore willing to believe anything negative that was said or written about her. Someone close to me is convinced that Hillary Clinton is a drug addict. Why does she believe that?

Donald Trump suggested that Hillary Clinton was taking drugs to prepare for her debates with him. CBS News reported that he said at one of his rallies, ”I think [Hillary Clinton is] actually getting pumped up.  You wanna know the truth.  She’s getting pumped up. You understand?”

Fake News sites and publications took up and expanded on the idea. Here is a paragraph from a National Enquirer fake news story:

As The ENQUIRER has reported earlier, the extremely fragile and easily-confused Hillary is fighting multiple sclerosis, blood clots, pneumonia, daily seizures, venous-sinus thrombosis and has suffered a stroke and struggled with alcohol issues.

What nonsense! If there is anyone left in the world who doesn’t know that there is seldom a word of truth in anything the National Enquirer publishes? It is a sad commentary on the state of critical thinking that many people do not know that and continue to read this sham “news” source.

Can critical thinking be taught in schools? I doubt it, but many people believe that it can be. We will never know, because people who reject logic and facts want their children to be taught to believe the same way. They certainly don’t want their children’s minds corrupted by the ability to think analytically. However, statistics do show that the more education a person has, the less likely it is that the person will believe in creationism. However, it may be that people who value critical thinking are more likely to pursue education.

Should you believe any of what I wrote above? I think you should read anything that purports to be fact with some skepticism, and that includes anything I write. Obviously, much of what I write is opinion. However, I have provided links to my sources of information. You can click on the text in green to make sure that I am quoting my sources accurately.